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Google Has Been “Bypassing” Apple Browser Privacy Settings to Track Web Browsing But Stopped Once Someone Figured It Out (?!?)

Yes, we all want to believe that when we “opt out” of things like having our web browsing activities tracked, our wishes are respected. 

However, the reality of this actually happening, at least with Google, may be in question today. 

The story is on The Wall Street Journal’s tech page today that Google (and others) have been bypassing the privacy settings of Apple’s popular Safari web browser and tracking the browsing activities of people who “intended for that kind of monitoring to be blocked.”  Apple’s Safari browser is designed to block that kind of tracking, and in fact works sort of differently from a lot of other web browsers, but Google and the other companies have used special code that allows them to “work around” and monitor browsing activity. 

It’s a powerful claim.  And here’s the kicker, in the form of a direct quote from the WSJ: 

Google disabled its code after being contacted by The Wall Street Journal.

Well, some might argue that move is a strong statement in and of itself.  It isn’t looking good. 

Some including those with the Wall Street Journal are clearly mounting a case that Google has “misrepresented” its privacy policies and may in fact contradict its own instructions on how not be be tracked by these entities when you browse the web if you don’t want to. 

Really, that doesn’t look good. 

Google is responding with its own claim that the WSJ “mischaracterizes” the tracking software and its purpose.  In a statement Google said: 

The Journal mischaracterizes what happened and why. We used known Safari functionality to provide features that signed-in Google users had enabled. It’s important to stress that these advertising cookies do not collect personal information.

Most of the coverage of this story at this point centers around executives and PR people from the various companies named claiming lack of knowledge, making explanations, and/or disavowing predatory internet monitoring practices in general. 

It’s pretty boring and mostly meaningless.  What’s meaningful, I think, is the simple fact that Google didn’t stick to its guns.  They disabled the offending code apparently after the Wall Street Journal “called them out” on it. 

Also, in terms of initial reactions, I mostly agree with John Battelle’s SearchBlog:  nobody looks good here, but I suspect that there’s a LOT more to this. 

Stay tuned for more as this develops. 

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